3.1 Deontology

3.1 Deontology
In studying ethics, a chronological approach may not be most effective. Many of the theories that have been held as valid throughout time must be viewed within the contexts of the struggles of the time and of the man. Early philosophers attempted to explain some of the issues that challenge us today. In modern times, you have science and the scientific principles that guide much of the research and thinking that were the purview of ancient philosophy.
Consequentialism and regularianism tell you how to determine what is good and what is not good, but neither tells you how to be good.
Deontology takes these theories a bit closer by telling you that what you need to do to be good is to do your duty. The word deontology derives from the Greek words for duty (deon) and science—or study of—logos. Simply, deontology refers to the knowledge and adherence to duty.
Immanuel Kant discussed the concept of deontology by arguing that an act is good only if done from good will and that good will is a consequence of observing duty; therefore, a morally good act is an act done from duty. (By duty, Kant is referring to rules rather than obligations.) Kant conceived the categorical imperative: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can will that your actions should be universal law. This then is Kant’s test of an ethical act: the act should suggest a universal law for all of humankind. An example of what Kant was implying: rather than walk to a waste basket to dispose of trash, you decide to throw the trash on the floor. In so doing, you are willing that all people throw all trash on the floor. (What a messy place that would create!) If instead, you decide to not only put your own trash in a waste basket but you elect to pick up after others if necessary, then you are willing that all people care about their surroundings and help out one another. In criminal justice, following the highest standards of professionalism in your daily actions is both setting an example and willing that all others in the profession also observe the highest level of professionalism.
3.2 Aristotles Concept of Teleology
In an attempt to integrate the concepts of consequentialism, regularianism, and deontology, the text references Aristotle, who wrote about the concept of teleology.
Basic to the concept of teleology is Aristotle’s belief that everything in the universe is endowed with a (singular) purpose and that to deny that purpose or to endow that object with a different purpose is against or contrary to the laws of nature.
Both deontology and teleology are basic to the criminal justice culture. Deontology discusses a commitment to duty. A commitment to duty supersedes the concern for personal safety or well-being. Police officers and corrections workers often risk their personal safety in an effort to protect the lives and property of others. The first paragraph of the Police Officer Code of Ethics reads,
As a Law Enforcement Officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception; the weak against oppression or intimidation; and the peaceful; against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all, men to liberty, equality, and justice.
There are volumes of laws, policies, and procedures that address the intrinsic utility or purpose of both actions and equipment used in the criminal justice system. There are specific rules governing the use of a gun. Using a gun for any purpose other than to provide the most extreme level of defense is a violation of policy.
Criminal justice professionals are required to use discretion in almost every decision they make. Knowledge of policies and procedures, as well as knowledge of the law, is critical to the ability of an officer to judiciously use discretion. Once a decision is made by an officer, the decision may be examined after the fact to determine whether or not the officer acted in compliance with the rules governing the agency or the law of the land. Frequently, decisions made by police officers are the subject of detailed and comprehensive investigations. The officer may be called upon to make a decision in a matter of seconds, in the midst of a crisis situation. Lawyers, police commanders, the media, and the public may be examining the officer’s decision and the outcome of that decision for several months to follow.
3.3 Aristotle and Virtue Ethics: What is Character?
Virtue ethics focuses on the concept of a good moral character. With its roots in ancient Greek and Roman moral philosophy, there is also a history of virtue ethics in Eastern philosophical traditions. In its simplest form, virtue ethics is concerned with leading a good life and being virtuous. As a human who is able to reason and is capable of choice, you should endeavor to become a good or virtuous person.
Consequentialism, regularianism, and deontology neglect to tell you what kind of a person you should be. In other words, what type of character should you possess?
What is character? Character is a term that refers to the way individuals behave. Your character dictates how you will act most of the time. As the text points out, people of good character are capable of occasionally acting in a selfish or dishonest manner. People of poor character are capable of acts of decency or kindness. A virtuous character would cause a person to behave in a selfless, kind, and caring manner, most of the time. Good character (virtuous behavior) is a conscious choice that is observed in behavior. Developing a good character is a matter of habit. The more a person practices virtuous behavior (acting in a selfless and decent manner), the more virtuous will become that person. A virtuous person is known then by his actions. Virtue, and by consequence a good character, are both habits that can define the individual. Note that virtue is defined as behavior, not beliefs or motives. Therefore, virtue is concrete rather than abstract. It can be demonstrated, practiced, and defined.

Aristotle’s philosophy is among the most revered regarding virtue and what constitutes a virtuous life or a good character. For many Greek philosophers, as well as Aristotle, the highest good is happiness. The term used by Aristotle is eudaimonia. Many definitions explain eudaimonia as happiness. It is more than happiness, however, and more than success. The phrase used by many texts is “to flourish,” perhaps meaning to thrive. But plants and animals can also thrive, and eudaimonia is a term more associated with rational choices available only to humankind.
Aristotle believed that before a person could achieve eudaimonia, his biogenic needs must be met. In 1934, sociologist Abraham Maslow authored a paper, A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he explained human behavior in terms that parallel Aristotle’s theory of eudaimonia. Maslow stated that there are levels of human need that exist in a hierarchy. Among the most basic needs, according to both Maslow and Aristotle, are the biogenic needs of air, water, food, safety, and shelter. According to Maslow, when these needs are met, individuals begin to strive to achieve higher levels of fulfillment including love, acceptance, and respect. Aristotle believed that a person was incapable of achieving eudaimonia if these basic needs were not met.
What are the implications here for the criminal justice professional? This need to have biogenic needs met, or basic needs met, is significant for two reasons. First, when encountering a person who is a suspect or victim of a crime, that person is frequently at a level where he feels threatened (unsafe) at the hands of either a suspect or by the police. Quite simply, this person’s biogenic need for safety is not being met. Since this is one of the basic needs for a person, it is important for the police officer to realize that the individual will not be concerned with appropriate social behavior, good manners, or frequently even good judgment. Secondly, as a criminal justice administrator, changes in policy or procedure that are viewed as threatening to police officers may elicit a similar threat to the perceived safety of the officer. For example, changing the work hours of a group of employees may create significant hardship regarding child care. Any change to operations that may impact compensation (money) in any form may threaten an employee’s perception of personal safety. Again, when an individual is struggling with safety issues, the loftier concerns of ethics, morality, and virtue will be secondary considerations.
3.4 How Can You Be Happy?
Philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists recognize the fact that humans are social beings. Human well-being depends on constant, meaningful interaction with other people. When people live and cooperate in groups, the higher level of eudaimonia begins to emerge, and the person begins to flourish (Maslow referred to this as Self Actualization).

As a practical issue for criminal justice professionals, the need for cooperation and connectedness among people is significant for two reasons. First, an individual’s loyalty to the group may be stronger than his fear of consequences for violating the law. For example, parents of children who are being investigated by the police may be reluctant to cooperate with police officers. When one member of a group is a suspect in a crime, other members of that community may be unwilling to cooperate with police. The second concern is that police officers identify with their police peers to a great degree. Many officers hold the philosophy that they may be men, women, black, brown, or white, but they are all “blue” on the inside. Police and corrections officers may be depending on their fellow officers for their safety in many situations. Developing and nurturing trust among this group serves not only social needs but safety needs as well. Among law enforcement and corrections officers, this group identity can be viewed by those on the outside as an “us versus them” mentality.
As humans, getting along in a group is essential for one’s safety and sense of self-worth. Being virtuous or “good” is, therefore, helpful in that it secures one’s membership in the group. Aristotle enumerated the virtues that are intrinsic to the virtuous person: courage; temperance; justice, and prudence. Along with these virtues, Aristotle discussed the idea that too much or too little of any of these virtues would be detrimental to the individual and therefore the group. For example, a courageous person is neither foolhardy nor cowardly but is able to reach a balance between the two. Aristotle referred to this state as “the Golden Mean.” With practice, the virtuous person is able to learn the appropriate behavior to reach an effective balance between recklessness and cowardice; between indulgence and abstinence; between autocracy and anarchy; and between caution and abandon.
As a practical matter, reaching the Golden Mean is significantly important for criminal justice professionals. Maintaining a healthy balance of these virtues in both personal and professional life can be invaluable to a virtuous life. A person who is able to act with an appropriate level of courage will be able to keep himself safe and provide needed support to his comrades. An individual who practices temperance will remain physically and mentally fit. The concept of justice is basic to the criminal justice professional and represents the highest principle of the profession. Lastly, prudence may be likened to discretion for the criminal justice professional. Thoughtful, careful decision making and actions can become a habit that will provide safety and success in a criminal justice career.
3.5 Concluding Remarks
Almost two thousand years ago, Aristotle postulated a theory of ethics and virtue that has provided the foundation for many modern sociological and psychological theories of human behavior. Many of the philosophies that address ethics are theoretical and abstract in their approaches. Aristotle’s theories are concrete, in that they define specifically what good behavior is and how to achieve a good character.
In most any profession, the use of discretion is practiced on a daily basis every time one is called upon to make a decision. In criminal justice, the use of officer discretion can have significant, life-changing impacts on the officer and the citizen. A police officer or corrections officer has a finite array of tools needed to respond to a crisis situation and to solve problems. The more knowledgeable an officer is about the resources or tools available to serve his or her community, the better able they will be to effectively utilize those tools. Adherence to duty is critical to be an effective police officer. Knowing how to find “the Golden Mean” in utilizing the tools available will allow an officer to be more than effective.

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